I recently attended a book launch with an author whose book I was in the process of editing. As we chatted another writer – whose name I was aware of although we had never met – joined us. I knew through the grapevine that he too was writing a book. The author introduced us announcing, “This is Jane, she’s editing my book and we’re working towards publication in a few months.”
“Wow, fantastic,” came the reply, “but why on earth do you need an editor when you’re such a good writer?”
It’s a question that leaves me lost for words – a rare state of affairs. If you have to ask why a writer needs an editor then – in my book – you don’t fully appreciate the writing process, or the symbiotic relationship that develops between the two.
While it’s wonderful for an author to have a support group of other writers and readers who’ll give their opinions on your work – which is of huge value as you’re writing – you also need a professional to guide you through the process. A good editor will be your coach, manager, cheerleader and most valuable team player. They won’t be afraid to tell you where you’ve gone wrong, but more importantly will tell you how to put it right.
If you want to be published you should be talking to an editor before you start writing, or at the very least before you submit your manuscript to a publisher.
Writers often don’t appreciate there are different types of editing, or that editors may have a primary focus on only one:
- Developmental editing – the writer has a concept for a book and works with an editor from the planning stages. The ‘Big Picture’ edit if you like, when the structure of the book, themes and plot are meticulously planned out. In an ideal world the author will then start work writing the manuscript.
- Rewrite, substantive, or substantial editing – this is fixing an existing manuscript. Rewriting can be as difficult or more challenging than starting from scratch. This edit often happens when a writer has written the manuscript and, having approached an editor to look at the big picture, realizes how much work is required to iron out any problems in structure, themes or the plot.
- Copyediting – this requires someone who has patience, a great eye for detail and a thorough understanding of both the rules of grammar and of common usage, plus a good sense of when to use them. The copyeditor gets deep into the text, polishing it, ensuring each word has the correct nuance for the context it’s in, that the text flows and the author’s voice is clear and unambiguous. This is also known as as line editing.
- Proofreading – similar to copyediting but corrects errors only, does not adjust or change text.
Depending on what you’re writing, how good a writer you are, whether you’ve published before or you’re working on your first manuscript, you should work with an editor at some point before publication. If you read the Acknowledgements in any bestseller, you’ll realize that the most prolific writers in the world often have a whole team of editors behind them. There’s a good reason they do.
Next month I’ll be looking at the Top Ten things editors look out for when starting to edit text – sign up for the blog now to make sure you don’t miss it.
BA (Hons) English Literature/ Language (UK)
Associate of the Society of Editors and Proof Readers, UK
Member of the Editorial Freelancers Association, USA